Savoring the moment.

You are not meant to avoid the darkness. You are meant to go into it, feed it love, illuminate it and transform it into light.
Only love has the power to heal the darkness within you.

– Alyonna Parveen

I hesitate to describe my “new normal” anymore because it is, indeed, only mine. Each person these days is facing completely different circumstances and interprets these circumstances differently. We are united, I guess, in a certain exhaustion or frayed nerves due to emotional and political upheaval. Our coping skills, risk tolerance, and way of dealing with the circumstances we find ourselves in is very different based on age, economic reality, social reality, occupation (or lack of one), gender, race, and disposition. None of this is news to you. It is obvious, it is the day to day reality.

In a divided world, we are further divided.

So, I can only speak to what is helping me find meaning these days. I said to a dear friend earlier this week that I’m learning to “micro-appreciate” each moment. When I find myself off kilter, it is often because I’ve quit appreciating the gifts of each moment and have fixated on some pain, anxiety, irritant or hurt that has captured my mind’s focus.

Stopping in the moment and allowing my focus to shift to my breath, to any movement of the air, the temperature and the surface that is supporting me, calms and centers me. Savoring the light, the view outside the window or right in front of me, allowing love for simple beauty, small comforts, soothing sounds helps me travel to the place where I remember. I remember that I am okay, even blessed, in this moment, I am loved by my dear ones and by the Divine, I am connected to Mother Earth, to nature, to the universe and by this, I am held.

From this simple practice, I ask myself, “Is there anything I need in this moment?” Often, the answer is “no,” but sometimes I need food, rest, a shower, to take care of a task I’ve been avoiding, to tidy my space, or to reach out – to send a note or make a call. I carry the beauty and comfort of that moment into my next steps.

My life these days is lived within these simple parameters. Some days I feel I must “do something!” I feel the need to contribute light, love and hope to the ailing world. Generally, upon reflection, I recognize that this is not my time to “do” anything. I may drop some food at the food shelf, send a card or gift to a loved one, or contribute some money to a worthy cause…but for the most part, my job at this moment is to Be, not to “do.”

One day, probably nine or ten years ago, John and I were hiking and I had the sense of a very, very brief message from the universe. Essentially, the message that came to me then was, “It is time for you to be an observer.” I have resisted this “call” for years. Moving away from all that was familiar and doing so right before COVID-19 has brought me back to this message. My worth, my self-esteem has been so based on doing. I guess in some strange way, this difficult time has at last begun to teach me about being.

I will be ecstatic when I can hug my friends and family again. However, I doubt very much that I will ever go back to “normal.” I predict that our household will spend less time doing and more time being in the years to come. Time to stop and smell the proverbial roses – or in our case, cacti blooms.

Much love to you,
Karen

Isolation Journal: Week 17 – Open Letter to Our Beloveds

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring

unnamedAn open letter to our family and friends:

Dear World,

We are doing the best that we can.

Some of us (seniors especially) have been practicing isolation during lockdown – masks, physical isolation, puttering about the home, daily walks, doing our hobbies, reading, cooking, or spending endless hours on screen time. No kids, no friends, no restaurants, etc., etc., etc.

Others our age are still in the workforce or still caring for family members. They seem to be healthy and have made it through by being careful. Some feel hanging out with kids and grandchildren is a priority for sanity and well-being – and are taking the risk. We recognize the differences among our friends and family in degrees of necessity (to be out in the workforce and interacting with others), confidence in one’s overall health, and risk-tolerance.

Some of us sense our vulnerability due to age, past illnesses, and pre-existing conditions and know that, for us, COVID-19 might be our last illness. We are otherwise healthy, happy, and doing our best in life. We LOVE our friends and family and you can’t imagine how we miss you all. But we’re in this for the long-haul. We want to have another Christmas, summer trip, party, or Thanksgiving with you – but we won’t do that until a cure or vaccine is found and available, or herd immunity is successfully achieved. We also know that we’d have trouble living with ourselves if we were the carrier of this illness to one of you or to someone more vulnerable. So we stay home, stay distanced, wear masks, wash our hands until we are almost numb. We hope you will understand our choice.

I have friends who live or work in senior living/nursing homes and that is a degree of isolation beyond what we’re dealing with. We at least have the option of going for a drive, a walk, or even a nearby mini-vacation. Most of them don’t have that option. Thank goodness for the creativity to reach out that has been inspired by necessity and love. Thank you to those who are still finding ways to connect with the most isolated.

My state is currently #1 in new cases per million – IN THE WORLD. This doesn’t make me want to flee – it makes me glad we’ve been as cautious as we are. It makes me grateful for our endurance and ability to get by, though we often don’t know which day of the week it is or what “the plan” is for the next 24 hours. It also makes me angry at the ignorance of our leadership and the heartlessness that puts economics above lives. Yes, we are very concerned about the economy, too. We understand the hardships people are living through – but other countries have lessons to share in how to flatten the curve that we have simply ignored. Now we are allowing people to die at record rates just to keep the cash flowing. Other countries also have lessons to share about how to gradually recover.

We are worried watching these statistics and numbers of new cases rise while our loved ones are beginning to return to work and to school. We pray daily for your protection – and we’ve tried to stop bombarding you with articles and news that justify our fears.

We are grateful for:

  • Loved ones in good health and having fun
  • Essential workers keeping the world functioning and trying to keeping us alive
  • Moments of connection with our loved ones
  • Little respites from routine
  • Mother Earth and Mother Nature
  • Spiritual and inspirational communities who keep inviting us to connect
  • Health and moments of happiness
  • Safe homes, nutritious food, clean water, air to breathe
  • Music
  • Animals, birds, and changes in weather – who “visit” us daily
  • Dear ones in our lives who persist in reaching out in whatever ways they are able
  • Quality entertainment and humor
  • Beauty around us
  • Daily routines – of cleaning, self-care and clearing space
  • Virtual friendships that remind us that there is a world and a community of loving people still out there
  • Life partners, friends and family who weather our ups and downs with us
  • Those who are able to find purpose and inspiration even in these times.

Thank you.

We love you,
Us (those of us still muddling through isolation)

Isolation Journal: Week Whatever (13) – Fire, lethargy, and renewal

P1070367I missed writing my regular Friday blog post because I forgot it was Friday (until dinner time) and on Friday I’m supposed to do something. So, today is Saturday, and I’m writing.

There seems to be less and less to say and less motivation to say it.

Things have changed over the past few weeks. It is sort of a COVID-19 free-for-all. Each family or home is deciding to isolate or not to isolate, to wear a mask or not to wear it; resuming life, working, socializing, getting haircuts – or isolating and feeling ready to burst with longing for normalcy and companionship. This morning I found out that one of my friends has the virus and am sending prayers for healing.

Protests continue over racism in our country – we’re each for this or against it; angered by the lack of wise leadership on many levels or confused; and, alternately, hopeless and hopeful.

_LAN6609_1In our little neck of the desert, we’ve had wildfires running rampant nearby. A friend evacuated from her home last night (close to the mountains and fire). We watch the billows of smoke, hope for winds to settle and moisture to arrive. Another thing over which we have little control. Personally, this means – with my twitchy lungs (asthma) – that I must stay indoors. I am grateful for air conditioning, since temperatures are over 100 degrees, but my mental health is rapidly deteriorating without my daily time outdoors – in the backyard and taking our vigorous daily walk. Sigh. I also am beginning to feel additional body weight from this inactivity. Inactivity in my body and mind lead me to a dullness and discouragement. 

My eating habits are weird – watermelon and pistachios for lunch, cherries and chocolate _LAN6911almond flour muffin for breakfast – maybe a salad for dinner or not…maybe tortilla chips and carrots and sugar-free chocolate chips. Eating at all different times of day. Food seems boring and effortful. Sleep habits are discombobulated.

Watching British mysteries on television, building villages on Minecraft, laughing or chatting with friends and family, texting, playing games, and looking through Facebook /Twitter/Instagram seem to be the going pastime activities. John monitors the tornado season and the fire season. He stays abreast of the big picture and is always eagerly learning.

should be grateful, counting my blessings, meditating, doing yoga. I should be more involved in something beyond my little realm. But right now it seems like it is just my lot to put one foot in front of the other and tidy (slightly) our home.

My Resolve this week is to get out of doors one way or another. We need Mother Nature’s healing touch. I need my body to feel alive and my breath to be strong and clear. Things change every day – forecasts, protocols, conditions. The Earth, even in fire and storm, is a source of stability, beauty, and regeneration. We give thanks to our Source for this gift and I will get my body out where it can experience this renewal. Blessings on your week.

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

– William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned

Isolation Journal: Week Twelve – Black Lives DO Matter

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.

– Jeremiah 31:15 (NRSV)

I don’t feel that I have much to offer in terms of perspective and wisdom this week. I know that tragedy and injustice have been done to George Floyd at the hands of one Minneapolis police officer and with the support of three others. I know that the world is in great turmoil and grief. Good people from all political persuasions have spoken out against this, and the president of the United States has not. I know that riots and destruction are not the answer (some rioting and violence was fueled by white people seeking to add fire to an already ugly situation, but much was pure rage and desperation) but I understand from my limited perspective where this fury comes from.

12742649_948627328565182_3877860098209780865_n
from Austin Channing Brown

Here are some of the clearest pieces that I’ve seen (most already shared on FB) this week – from voices much closer to the topic:

I am heartened and inspired by the many people in my world who have stepped up – some briefly and many more consistently – to voice their concern and support for those who are protesting (numerous out there lending their voice and their support in person). Lots of these beloved folks are in the Twin Cities and others scattered around the globe. Additional inspiration comes from those who have been plugging away throughout COVID-19, my healthcare and ministry friends who’ve had to keep putting one foot in front of the other through all of this (including a high school friend with whom I reconnected this week who runs a nursing home). They are weary, challenged, and still determined.

I shared a personal update Wednesday evening (FB post), “I’m dealing with my asthma for past couple of days, so no 100 degree walks for me today or yesterday…. Highlight of the week has been a nice long chat with [my daughter and her family], Minecraft sessions with [my granddaughter] and laughing with [loved ones]…. Despite the painful week on so many levels, there have been rays of sunshine.” There have been other moments of hope and cheer, but I don’t want to gloss over the mess this country is in with much “shine” from my isolated little corner. Things are in tatters.

The good news for me is that the Spirit is with all of us in the midst of all of this. Humans may blame and point fingers, justifying oppression, but Truth is being spoken. The Sacred breaks through in the smallest of gestures and in the courage of the broken and mistreated ones. Prayers, casting the net, meditation, meta practice, Tonglen, all send a ripple of love – a Sacred Breath, you might say – to the planet. Keep your candles burning, and as I often say to one of my besties, “roll those beads, sister.”

We all have homework to do on in order to become fully educated on the anti-racism work that is needed – and no one person will have the full solution. But I’ll start by attending some (virtual) education events in the coming week and see where that leads. I hope you will find your place in this work and share it widely.

Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand.
If he is unable to do so, then with his tongue.
If he is unable to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of faith.

– Saying of the Prophet Mohammed (shared by Jamal Rahman)

IMG-0894

Isolation Journal: Week Eleven – Grief

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.
Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the difference that comes between them.
There are two things which [human beings] can do
about the pain of disunion with other [humans]. They can love or they can hate.

Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price
of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion.

But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.
– Thomas Merton, “A Body of Broken Bones,” New Seeds of Contemplation

While people are dying in unimaginably large numbers, we are trying to go back to “normal” because it is our right and because we can’t afford to do otherwise. The racism in our country has jumped out at us while we are at our worst. Tragedy upon tragedy. Violence erupting. I don’t have many words today. Just feeling for the world’s pain.

A poem for the day:

06829de08fa5d9ce005e35242be8860fGrief
is the stuff
which drives us
to poetry
and short sentences.
Sorrow
for the world’s woes….
We barely find the will to speak.
O dear planet –
sisters,
brothers –
how we wish to hold you,
how we long
to cradle and rock
’til you are soothed.
“Love,” we sing.
We cast our life-preserving, life-restoring prayers.
O dear planet –
sisters, brothers –
words will not suffice.
Even prayers don’t do it –
only acts of love have the power of transformation.
Songs sung in unity come close.

How do I open my solitary, fearful heart
to your rage, your pain and despair?
How may I not drown in its torrents?
Grandmothers,
we call on your powerful love.
Great-grandmothers,
we call on your strength.
Ancestors,
we need your perspective and hard-won wisdom.

Holy One,
only you know how
to hold the cries
of rage, of anger,
hatred and retaliation.
100802115_1219493608412007_1974709581971980288_nOnly you
know how to
sing to us,
how to stitch us up
after we are torn to pieces.
Dear One,
the tearing is awful and ugly,
revealing all that we’d rather hide.
Teach us
how to see the wounds
and not cover them.
Teach us
how to heal the deep injuries,
without hiding our brokenness.
Vulnerable now,
don’t let us tidy up the mess.
Let it be seen
and felt.
Time to weep.
Time for honesty.
Only love –
the kind that knows and sees woundedness with honest eyes –
will do.
Then,
may the sacred thread of Spirit
begin the long process of
stitching up
our tattered souls.

Love, Reality, and Vulnerability,
Karen

Favorite thoughts of the week:

Pentecost, Prejudice, and Pandemic by Diana Butler Bass

If We Had a Real Leader by David Brooks

From Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“…it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

From Nina Jonson, Robbinsdale, MN (Facebook post):

“My heart is as heavy as the air this morning, as heavy as the clouds of smoke.

It is not enough, but here is a prayer I shared with the children, youth and families from our church yesterday.

Everything right now takes away breath. Fear sucks it from our lungs. Viruses drag it out of our reach. Smoke wraps around it poisonously. People forcefully eject it from our throats. I have no answers today, but for those who can breathe, let every breath be a prayer.
Breathe support to the family of George Floyd.
Breathe love into our community.
Breathe justice into our streets.
Breathe peace into our country.
Breathe calm into our children.
Breathe safety into our black, brown and indigenous siblings.
Breathe joy into the space around you.
Breathe strength into our elders.
Breathe patience into yourself.
Breathe compassion into each other.
Breathe dreams for a better future into reality.
May it be so.”

 

Isolation Journal: Week 10 – Miracles in our midst

Every visible thing in this world is put in the charge of an angel.
– Augustine of Hippo, Eight Questions

Do not believe me simply because I have seen Heaven and Hell,
have discoursed with angels…. Believe me because
I tell you what your consciousness and intuitions will tell you
if you listen closely to their voice.
– Emanuel Swedenborg, Concerning Divine Love & Wisdom

IMG-0807In recent years, I have been thinking of writing down my life story – just for my kids, for posterity. This is something of a joke in my family because my mother’s “autobiography” upset all of her relatives (including her children). It definitely had something in it to upset everyone. I guess she just needed to get her perspective out there for all to hear. Oh well. But the story I’m thinking of putting down on paper isn’t from that perspective at all – a listing of all the hurts, upsets, and disappointments of life. I realized one day, just a few years back, that my life story is a series of miracles – one right after the other. Plenty of ups and downs, but whenever I was in desperate need of help, it always, always arrived.

I’ve told stories to my spiritual community about people on my journey who have, unbidden, entered my life and brought with them a message, a relief, or some comfort that I needed. This past week I’ve been reading an interesting book about angels and spirit guides which really – if I get critical thinking and analysis out of the way – would explain a lot of events in my life. (Yes, this is pretty “out there” and may be too woo-woo for you. That’s okay. I’m sharing this for others who may have inklings of what I’m talking about, but don’t like to say it out loud.)

IMG-0791It is my dear friend, Robin’s, birthday today. She wrote, this morning on Facebook, “This morning while I was having my coffee on my patio a white feather floated by me and there were no birds around. So, I googled it: ‘This is the most common angel feather and is thought to be a sign of faith and protection. A white feather can also be your Angel telling you that any loved ones in heaven are safe and well.’” She concluded by saying, “Thank you Heidi and Gammy, the best birthday present ever.” What a beautiful story, symbol and message. And to think that Google was the intermediary! But, knowing Robin, she already knew what this meant. She just wanted written confirmation. 🙂

I’ve had angels watching over me since early childhood. And I have needed their help because I’ve gotten myself into many predicaments. The earliest one that I’ve been told about is when I very quietly fell into a pool as a toddler while my mom was deep in conversation with her friend, Shirley. Mother said that I went in head first and was sinking straight to the bottom without making a sound or a motion when she noticed, jumped up, and caught me by the ankle, pulling me out to safety. She was always mystified by how calm I was, how like a lead weight I was, and how she happened to look up at precisely the right moment. Swimming lessons began almost the moment we got home.

IMG-0799The other story my mother found even more traumatic and that she never could quite explain was when our family went to see the Chinese New Year parade in China Town (in San Francisco) when I was around three years old. The crowd that gathers for this event is huge and tightly packed on the streets. I was old enough to not want to be held or carried, and heavy enough for my mom to agree to just hold my hand. Because of the crowd, she and I got separated from my dad and sisters. As she told the story, we were packed so tight as the dragon began to go by and the crowd celebrated, that she couldn’t move. But when the main attraction passed, the crowd began to move like an excited river, with a lot of force and momentum completely heedless of anything in its path. She tried to pick me up but was unable to reach me. She said, “Out of nowhere a very big man appeared and could see the panic on my face. He looked down and saw you there and, without a word, he just planted himself there like a brick wall between you and the crowd. I started crying. When at last I was able to bend down and pick you up, I looked up to thank him and he was nowhere to be seen. He was just gone.” These are stories I’ve been told most of my life – but I don’t remember either of them. I am claustrophobic, though, and I get panicked in crowded rooms. My mom thought there was a connection.

And then there is my first conscious childhood memory of a miracle. I’ve told the story to my spiritual community and I count it as the moment I really had a visceral connection to the Divine. I’ll share it with you here. Picture a tired and stressed mother taking me, her daughter of age seven or eight, to the beach. She needed peace and quiet and time to write in her journal. It was too cold and foggy to be in the water so I was told in no uncertain terms to stay out of the water and to stay where she could see me. She said, “If you can see me, I can see you.” Contrary to what my husband says when he imagines what I was like as a kid, I must have been somewhat well-behaved at times, because she was so confident that I’d do what she said that she never looked around to find me again. I played in the sand for awhile, then I turned around and started to explore the sandy, brush-covered hillside. I climbed up on little animal paths through the brambles. I was a very confident climber since I climbed fences and trees all day at home. But I didn’t have much experience with hills. Somehow or another, I got myself up on a sort of cliff or overhang and scurried up on the dusty, dry hill and got to where I couldn’t move forward or backward. There was nothing to hang onto – no brush or bramble. And looking behind me, it was steep, dusty, and would mean a long fall if I slipped. I tried every available stick of grass, handhold or foothold and there was nothing strong enough to move me up or hold me as I tried to go back. I yelled for help, first timidly, then as loud as I could. No response. The crashing waves below, must have muted my cries. I could still see my mom in the distance, but she didn’t look up. I started to cry. Then I asked God to please help me (something I don’t remember ever doing before). At that moment or very shortly after, something shifted. I felt calmer. I looked around and there, against the hillside – just where I had been looking and finding nothing before – was a drainpipe. A drain pipe! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I shifted a bit, reached for it and got ahold. It was anchored strongly enough that I could use it to support me as I crept up the hill past the steep, almost vertical, section. As I got to the top, to the parking lot above the beach, I looked down. Where did that come from? Why was this tiny drain even there? I joyfully, but shakily, ran down the stairway from the parking lot and ran back to my mom. I plopped down on her blanket to tell her the story and she got upset with me for getting it all sandy. She asked for just a few more minutes of “peace and quiet” so the story went untold. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, in a conversation with an Episcopal priest, that I ever told the story again – but I pondered it for years – my own deep knowing that God came to my rescue. I now think that an angel placed the drainpipe there.

I love Annie Dillard’s writing, because she is both highly rational and scientific and highly mystical. Her memoirs are considered non-fiction. In one passage, she describes a solitary and awe-inspiring moment in her life that I have shared in sermons throughout the years. Perhaps I repeat it because it captures that odd sensation that there is more to what is in front of us than meets the eye – a sense of the transformation of the ordinary. This story she tells is about a day when she was walking near a farm on a dirt road and everything changed – the silence of the field next to her overwhelmed her.

She writes: The roosters across the road started, answering the proclamation [of the lone maniac bird] or cranking out another round, arhythmically, interrupting.… I shifted along the fence to see if either of the owners was coming or going. To the rooster I said nothing but only stared… When I was turned away in this manner, the silence gathered and struck me. It bashed me broadside from the heavens above me like yard goods; ten acres of fallen, invisible sky choked the fields. The pastures on either side of the road turned green in a surrealistic fashion, monstrous, impeccable, as if they were holding their breaths. The roosters stopped. All the things of the world – the field and the fencing, the road, a parked orange truck – were stricken and self- conscious…” “…[T]he silent fields were the real world, eternity’s outpost in time, whose look I remembered but never like this… I turned away, willful, and the whole show vanished. The realness of things disassembled…” She continues, “Several months later walking past the farm on the way to a volleyball game, I remarked to a friend…, ‘There are angels in those fields.’ Angels! That silence so grave and so stricken, that choked and unbearable green! I have rarely been so surprised at something I’ve said. Angels!” (from Teaching a Stone to Talk).

Okay, I’ve rambled about these encounters with the miraculous for way too long today, but I guess I’m attempting to make the point that even through this dull, inactive phase of life in which some of us currently find ourselves, we may still be surprised. It is possible to see that this life – despite politicians, uncaring humans, repetition, and pandemics – may be filled to the brim with magic, with spiritual presence. If we have the eyes to see, miracles abound. Now if I can just remember….

Love, magic, and miracles to you,
Karen

P.S. I’d love to hear your miracle stories, too!

IMG-0833

Isolation Journal: Week 9 – Inner Peace & Junk Food

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy:
“It takes more than bread to stay alive.
It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”
– Matthew 4:4 (The Message version)

Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
God is still speaking.
– past slogan of the United Church of Christ, partially attributed to George Burns

It feels as if those of us who have been in isolation for many weeks have settled into a rhythm. We are learning, by virtue of repetition, what works for us, what doesn’t.

—-

IMG-0701Note: I know that my isolation time and that of most of my dear friends is one of privilege. Some are still working hard out in the world. (Thanks to each one!) Without the support of the workers, those of us in isolation would waste away or be forced out to risk contagion and spreading the virus. So, we are here, learning lessons of isolation, by the grace of other human beings who are making it possible. Others, in isolation, are suffering from poverty and various forms of abuse within the home. It is not a pretty picture – not a gracious learning time – for them. This is the reality of many of our neighbors. We each need to figure out how to offer a word of safe encouragement and support to these folks. Often, in later years, we may rely on our spiritual community to be the haven to which those in dire straights can flee – so we can support their ministries, their leaders, and other social services where possible. Hopefully, they are able to point those at risk to shelter and relief.

Now, out in the community, many are returning to work or to social settings before there is a plan in place. To hold on to businesses and jobs, many will be forced to take these risks before the collective wisdom of those who see the patterns clearly says we are ready. There are others who seem forced – by emotional immaturity and the inability to “hold” their turbulent feelings while in isolation – to flee and protest and go against good judgement and leadership in order to find release from spending time with themselves. Some of our political leaders share this immaturity and lack of impulse control which does not help these lost souls to rise above their frustrations and confusions, but instead, encourages them to lash out. “I want what I want when I want it” is the driving principle.

Each of these things, above, are ones over which I currently have little or no control. I can only offer my financial contributions, or my energy, my spiritual condition to the universe (while waiting for election time) and hope that it has a ripple effect on the whole.

—–

IMG-0755So, back to the rhythm of isolation. I don’t know if you are finding it this way, but some weeks I have higher goals and energies than others. Other weeks, I must focus on the simplest of pleasures, those nearest at hand and relax into them as my whole purpose. This has been such a week for me. No lofty purpose or big picture. My journal holds words of appreciation for the birds – especially red ones this week – for a cool breeze,  for shade, for clouds, flowers, trees, and water. Savoring peace.

One vivid moment was a morning on the patio in which all of these things inspired me to refill the finch seed in our feeders. One is a plain “sock” style feeder that hangs from our small lime tree. I was taking the sock down from a small branch and caught a tiny movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking straight at me from about twelve inches away was a frightened, but calm and still, mourning dove on her nest. Wow! I quietly slipped away and slipped back and replaced the feeder at a greater distance on the tree. Back in the pre-COVID days, that would not stand out as the highlight of my week. But here we are on Friday, and that simple pleasure of connection with a tiny bird still rests poignantly in my mind.

I had a loaf of fresh, grain-free, dairy-free bread arrive yesterday in the mail and it was cause for dancing and celebration.

When John heads for bed in the evening – which often signals the end of the day, I also somehow celebrate that. The sweet time of brushing teeth, returning to our “nest” and reading, resting in the pleasure of soft, clean sheets and comfy pillows is deeply reassuring – breathing in our gratitude for the day and for each other. I look forward to the dream world each night, where I will experience unity with the Divine, where I will move beyond the confines of my limited vision to something more creative trying to work itself out, over which I have little control. I give thanks for these “tender mercies.”

IMG-0751But I also can go a bit astray in these “easy” days. Not taking adequate time for prayer and meditation, but instead “reading my phone” or scrolling through social media and playing addictive games. Forgetting to savor the moments on my patio in favor of turning on the TV or getting busy. A couple days of overdoing the mindless distracting and I feel like I’ve eaten junk food – kind of blah. Time to refresh and renew.

Music helps. Cleaning the house helps. Laughing with someone helps. Our almost daily walk time is a necessity.

Photography helps me to focus on the moment. Seeking beauty and taking a picture of it is an excellent pursuit for spiritual well-being. The photos and videos we share on Facebook, Instagram, and here help us to focus our appreciation on a moment of connection with nature, with the Divine. And those few days in which we leave the camera behind are good, too. They remind us that it is that moment, that connection, and not “capturing” it to share that is most important. These things are not junk food – they’re whole grain, organic veggies, sweet raw honey, and herbal tea for the soul.

So, eat, drink, be merry. Savor the simple sweetness wherever you may find it.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet

Love, health, peace, and laughter to you,
Karen

Isolation Journal: Week 8 -Abundant Craziness

As for me and my house
We will stay where we at.
– 1st Isolations 24:7
(From SistasinZion on Facebook)

IMG-0608I have no idea what to write at this point. I don’t think this week will go down as a wise, measured, or well-reasoned one in U.S. history (to put it mildly). No one in the country seems to really have a good plan – though I know some very good people are trying to give us one (and then another, and another).  This response to the pandemic is an experiment through and through. Conspiracy theories abound.

Unfortunately, the seeds of deep division in our country – political, racial, economic, gender-related, spiritual – have grown into a thick jungle of thorny weeds. The only response to this mire seems to be wild flailing whacks with a machete.

Any plan is upsetting to one group or the other. Racial hatred is again in the news the past few days with vivid and disturbing tragedy. Our national leader seeks to divide rather than unite and to fan the flames of hatred with every tweet. Behind the scenes ugly values are undoing the foundations of justice at a rapid pace (there does seem to be a plan in place in this area). Ugh.

Some U.S. states are making gradual returns to “normal” by allowing parts of the workforce to return. Some are opening restaurants, beaches, churches, others are still banning such gatherings. Angry people are refusing to wear a mask as a political “right” to liberty, and armed, masked (white) protesters have taken to various capitols to protest stay-at-home orders with very few consequences. Ugh again.

willieHere’s a mildly amusing reality. The good and bored and winter-worn folk in Minnesota plan to hold the well-beloved Fishing Opener (a huge state-wide annual weekend event) this weekend (while schools are still closed and shelter in place orders remain). The governor cancelled the “Governor’s Opener” but most everything else is still in place. Let’s see…pickup trucks and SUV’s hauling boats to lakes and resorts all over the state (resorts whose rental cabins are still closed). Only family groups in each boat (in theory) and round-trip is supposed to use only one tank of gas. Uh huh. In theory also, everyone will be socially distanced as they back their boats into the water at the few boat launches on each lake. Social distancing (and masks?) also when they buy fishing licenses, purchase munchies, bait, and so on. Okay. Then add massive quantities of beer and socially starved individuals to the scenario. No doubt this is going to go smoothly. Ditto in Wisconsin. What could possibly go wrong?

Okay, now, where in the world is the Sacred in the midst of these amusing, wacky, disturbing, and seriously menacing realities? Whew. Luckily, the answer is still: Everywhere.

This week, though, I need to step waaaaaaaaay back from social media and news to see this. Each morning, I have started my day with coffee on the patio as the songs of various birds serenade and Nature goes about her business. Today, a small red bird fluttered overhead, a jack rabbit ran by and two coyotes cleared out the brush as they cruised through in search of a morning snack.

D70AAD99-F9EF-4F1F-A6AB-AACF0FBF1601Joy this week has been found in natural beauty,  humor, friendship, music, Minecraft with my granddaughter, occasional texts from my daughters and friends, video chat with my sisters and sharing the occasional tasty morsel of food. (Yes, one more Chipotle order.) I am still “casting the Net of Light” each morning and night – sending love and light to friends and family near and far, to people who are hurting, to creation, to life.

What ways are you finding to support your soul? What contributions to the world’s light, peace, and love have you been making? Sometimes, the only answer we can come up with is that we’re doing our best to take care of ourselves and to not carry illness to our neighbors. If so, I believe that our best is all that is required.

This week, I’m going to try to incorporate Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice on how to cope with things (especially people) who drive you crazy. He writes, “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.  

Love, grace, humor and blessings to you, – Karen

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Isolation Journal: Week 7 – One true thing

The tree of life, my soul has seen,
laden with fruit and always green.
– Elizabeth Poston

IMG_0596At this point we are all getting down to brass tacks, I think. Comedians are struggling to find fresh humor, government leaders, gurus and ministers are struggling to find anything new or enlightening to say (though I truly do appreciate the effort). The rest of us struggle to find purpose in our daily routines – other than just biding our time. There’s this faint little air of desperation that kind of lingers in the background – even in our jokes.

Here’s my rant for the day (Disclaimer: This paragraph is completely optional and probably not very helpful):

I am tired of most online conversations (and I’ve only had a few), tired of online worship, workshops, and audiobooks. I am sick to death of Hallmark and murder mysteries. I’m tired of my boring healthy food routine. (We again placed a Chipotle order this week – savored every bite.) I am so sick of political bickering that I really need to follow my Colorado friends’ example and howl. I’m tired of trying to figure out if I need to wear a facemask on my walks in 95-plus-degree weather and I’m tired of crossing the street or leaving the sidewalk to avoid my unmasked neighbors. I’m tired of those flagrantly huddling in groups, laughing and conspiring about the rest of us who are apparently “just paranoid.” I’m tired of my own thoughts. The list continues: tired of bathing my groceries, washing my hands, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. Ugh!

So, here’s where the brass tacks come in. What do I actually love?

I love the Holy, the Divine. I love my husband, our kids and grandkids, our siblings, their families, cousins, aunts and uncle. I love my friends – though I long to hang out with them in person. I love Mother Earth and Mother Nature. I love delicious food, fresh water, safe shelter. I love laughing. I love the freedom to walk on safe streets. I love art and music. I love the moments when I can find my center, my core and feel its connection to all of these beloved things above.

Are we all at that point? Are we getting tired of Covid-humor, Covid-rules, Covid-monotony, Zoom torture, and television? Is that why beaches are crowded and the police are having to enforce social distancing rules? I know a few of my friends are handling this with more grace than I. But I’m pretty sure it is not just me who is losing it.

I shared this article by Amy Weatherly on Facebook this morning and thought that this says it all. Weatherly writes:

“I think it was Brene Brown who told a story about a village where all the women washed clothes together down by the river. When they all got washing machines, there was a sudden outbreak of depression and no one could figure out why.

“It wasn’t the washing machines in and of themselves. It was the absence of time spent doing things together. It was the absence of community.

“Friends, we’ve gotten so independent.

“We’re ‘fine’ we tell ourselves even when in reality we’re depressed, we’re overwhelmed, we’re lonely, and we’re hurting. ‘We’re fine, we’re just too busy right now’ we say when days, weeks, months, and years go by without connecting with friends. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s so easy to say even when it’s not true.

“We’ve become so isolated and it’s hard to know how to get back….”

This morning, I sat out on the patio and sipped my coffee. I reached out to the Divine and asked for support, for connection and presence. As I did so, that deep down sadness popped up again, a few tears flowed. I asked the emotion where it had come from, what it needed. It just wanted to be held, acknowledged, and allowed to be. It needed gentle, loving care.

IMG_0588I again asked the Divine for presence, for wisdom, for support. While the birds sang and quails warbled, a breeze blew softly. I watched a lizard on my fence walk sideways, then do pushups in the sun. And then I saw this. Last summer a huge bud appeared on this cactus, then it just folded up and faded away. Today, there was a fragile pink-tinged white bloom with gorgeous yellow center on the most unattractive, lumpy cactus.

And then I thought of this phrase, this Truth that I had put into words long ago:

“…The only thing of which I am sure is that God has been with me, is with me now and will always be with me. From that, I trust, when faced with other persons’ fears and crises that God has been with them, God is with them now, and God will always be with them. That is my one true thing. It is the point of reference from which I go out and come back. It is this truth that has allowed me to put IMG_0587my children on the school bus or the airplane. It is this truth that allows me to sit by a loved one who is gravely ill and not be so afraid. It is this truth that under-girds my hope for humankind.”

Some things don’t change. This one true thing – “brass tack” or touchstone – still rings true for me.

And so we put one foot in front of the other, trusting that on some plane of existence – in the sacred dimension – we are always, always held. And if we need to, we can just lean back into that and let go of all our exhaustion and effort. This week, maybe lean back into your Truth. And then, together, we won’t need to make things into such a demanding duty. Maybe we can kind of luxuriate in the peace of being held. At least until we turn on the T.V…..

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo
– Karen

P.S. Back in the days when I was delivering sermons, I came to realize that I hardly have any advice. There are only one or two things that I really, really know and, therefore, I say the same things over and over and over again in different words. And here we are again.

 

Isolation Journal: Week 6 on our “Blue Boat Home”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you about mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on….

– Mary Oliver, from “Wild Geese”

IMG-0519This sixth week of social distancing and isolation has gone by rather quickly. Or else I’m just losing track of time altogether. There have been up days, moments of boredom, sadness, and anxiety, but for the most part, this week has been quiet and calm. We have shelter, food, friends, family, health, and a beautiful world outside our door.

It is getting warmish here in our southwestern climate, so we will begin to walk in the morning next week. Tried out the A/C yesterday. This morning, I got up, sat on the patio and listened to the birds, sketched and later water-colored a bit. I listened to music as I painted. Earlier in the week, my birthday present from John – a hand drum – arrived. After I finished water-coloring, I tried drumming along with some of my favorite Kirtan chants. Very fun! I will do that again. There was an eclectic nature to the music I enjoyed today – from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Andrea Boccelli singing the Lord’s Prayer to a Sufi chant for Ramadan to Kirtan. Well rounded, I’d say.

The morning flew by in this pleasant way – and it didn’t occur to me until Noon that this was Friday – Journal check-in Day.

IMG-0524The political situation is one that triggers still – and I find that I feel agitated when I watch the news. I loved watching the World Health Organization’s press conference. It was a pleasant change to listen to sane and intelligent people who are truly doing their best to solve a crisis of global proportions, focusing on the well-being of human beings everywhere. I learned some things and understood other concepts more clearly. Sad that this is such a novelty.

My spiritual director spent an hour “companioning” me on Monday and that was very helpful. She again nudged me toward being gentle with myself, keeping things simple. A week ago, she sent me a copy of a blog I posted in 2017 and it was actually helpful to me this week to re-read my own advice to “soak in the love” during the April New Moon (which was this week). So that’s what I’ve been doing.

The many Earth Day postings people have shared this week have been great and inspiring. Along with Sharon McErlane’s advice about frequently casting the Net of Light (see her latest video session, below), the week has kept me in touch with Nature and Spirit at a deeper level. It feels calming and centering.

All in all, I am grateful for children and grandchildren who are healthy, a loving companion, the comforts of home, music, movement, beauty, Mother Earth, and the Divine. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all these blessings, Holy One.

Wishing you peace, health, love, and connection,  Karen

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Favorites of the Week:

Second Installment of the Net of Light gatherings with Sharon McErlane.

Imam Jamal Raman’s post for Ramadan – “South Asian Sufi devotional song and Whirling Dervish. Based on a saying by the Prophet Muhammad( pbuh) praising Hazrat Ali. Composed by the sage Amir Khusrao (d.1316 CE).”

Peter Mayer’s Earth Day “Blue Boat Home” – on Facebook and here’s his “Holy Now” (a long-time favorite).

2017 Post from Following the Golden Thread – for the April New Moon

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